By John Schneidawind, vice president, public affairs, ARTBA

The transportation construction industry, like most sectors of the American economy, is adapting to new ways of working because of the COVID-19 pandemic. A CEO panel at ARTBA’s national convention agreed the industry, for the most part, has been successful.

ARTBA Senior Vice Chairman Ward Nye, chairman and CEO of Martin Marietta, moderated the Oct. 19 panel. Participants included:

  • Jim Roberts, CEO emeritus of Watsonville, Calif.-based Granite Construction;
  • Michael Renshaw, chief growth officer of Los Angeles-based AECOM;
  • Lou Cornell, CEO of WSP USA, based in New York City; and
  • Barry Ruffalo, president and CEO of Chattanooga, Tenn.-based Astec Industries.

Nye summed up the sentiments of the chief executives this way: “While we wouldn’t want to go through 2020 again, we wouldn’t want to trade in any of the lessons we have learned either.”

Added Ruffalo: “It has allowed us to work new ways to be effective.”

Those lessons include how adaptable employees have been in shifting their work from office to home, by far the biggest change experienced by transportation construction companies. Each of the panelists reported two-thirds to four-fifths declines in the number of employees who still work at the office. At AECOM, where employees work from home on average between 3.3 to 3.5 days per week; that has turned out to be a good thing, Renshaw said. “The quality of work and communications has increased.”

One challenge remaining if the pandemic persists is the inability to mentor talented employees. “How to develop career paths of the future is the real challenge in a hybrid environment,” Renshaw said.

Roberts said the shift to working from home is likely to persist into 2021. “We don’t know if we’re coming back” to the office, he said. Employees began returning to the office last summer, but increased COVID-19 infections nationwide have brought that effort to a halt. “It has taught us to be more flexible than we used to be,” he said.

WSP’s Cornell is grateful for advanced technology that allows virtual meetings. “Five years ago, the technology wouldn’t have allowed us to do this,” he said. “At WSP, we have a plan in place, and we can adapt it going forward.”